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New audience figures for BBC Global News

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Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 11:00 UK time, Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Recent times have not been the easiest for the BBC's international news services.

New Broadcasting House

New Broadcasting House

The challenges our journalists face have never been so severe or varied, from increased harassment and intimidation to persistent efforts to censor BBC content.

With global competition only intensifying, the BBC World Service has also had to face significant cuts to its funding, undergoing disrupting and painful change.

In this context, we're announcing today that the BBC's global weekly audience estimate has seen a steady rise by 14 million to 239 million in 2012, up 6% from last year.

This has been driven primarily by the performance of our BBC Arabic and BBC Persian services. As tumultuous events in the Middle East and North Africa unfolded, audiences increasingly turned to the BBC for independent news they could trust.

The figures are cause for cautious confidence but certainly not complacency. We still have significant challenges ahead, including the need for BBC World Service to make additional savings and the integration of our domestic and international news operations in state-of-the-art new facilities in New Broadcasting House.

And while BBC World Service has managed to increase its overall audience to 180 million from 166 million in 2011 (an 8% increase) by delivering distinctive, high quality journalism, this should not mask that the BBC no longer serves audiences in some individual countries in the way we did previously.

Funding cuts from the Foreign Office have lessened the BBC's ability to take our journalism into some countries, and the overall figures would have been even higher still without these reductions.

With the Chinese, Russian and Iranian governments all pumping money into journalism designed to give their own perspective on the world, there's no room for complacency.

But the figures do underline the lasting importance of our international mission.

The combined increase across all our international news services is first and foremost a credit to the dedication, bravery and professionalism of our journalists. In today's world, theirs is a tough calling.

In the past year, the BBC's Arabic Service has seen a record rise in audiences with 25 million adults weekly tuning in. BBC Persian TV has doubled its reach in Iran, with an audience of 6 million people, despite facing a campaign of censorship and intimidation by the Iranian authorities.

Our English language radio programming on the BBC World Service has also performed well with audiences holding firm at about 44 million overall. Journalists have consistently delivered high-quality international coverage ranging from the global economic crisis, Afghanistan, the deaths of Gaddafi and Osama Bin Laden and famine in the Horn of Africa to South Sudan's independence and the horrific killings in Norway.

But while our mission endures, how we deliver it must evolve.

This rise in our reach shows the BBC's global strategy, increasing access to our content on new platforms, is working. We must continue to respond to the changing needs of our audiences to stay relevant.

The global audiences for BBC World Service, BBC World News and bbc.com were 145 million for radio (down 1% this year), 97 million for television (up 13% including a 45% increase in BBC World Service TV platforms) and 30 million for online (including a 20% increase for BBC World Service online). This includes a strong year for the BBC's international mobile services. The bbc.com mobile site reached 2.7 million unique users per week, a 30% increase from 2011.

None of this is cause for us to rest on our laurels.

But these figures are a step in the right direction as they underline the international desire for the sort of independent journalism that the BBC provides. Globally, there remains a dire need for journalism that isn't slanted towards any one country, political or commercial viewpoint.

Peter Horrocks is director, BBC Global News.

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